Anyone who’s overseen or participated in a project knows the grim reality — successful projects aren’t easy to achieve. And one of the primary measures of success is completing the project on time.
Many factors can derail a project’s delivery, such as a change in a project’s priorities or objectives. When a project’s parameters aren’t defined and clearly stated, it’s easy for a project to swell beyond its original intent. That’s known as scope creep and, as you’d expect, it can wreak havoc on a timeline.
Project management software is built with a variety of tools that make it easier to control project scope and keep deliverables on time:
- Gantt charts: This common feature provides a visual breakdown of a project’s stages, individual tasks and due dates. It also shows which person is responsible for each task.
- Timelines: Similar to Gantt charts, timelines present project information visually. Some solutions have a drag-and-drop interface that makes it easy to rearrange items.
- Task dependencies: Often, certain tasks can’t begin until others are completed. For example, publishing content on a website requires the website first to be built and wireframed. Proper project management tools allow you to link tasks that show dependencies so your team works on tasks in the right order.
- The critical path: Every project has an essential list of tasks needed to complete it. The critical path helps identify those activities and the shortest amount of time required from start to finish. Tools that have this capability let you define and see the critical path in a Gantt chart or a similar layout.
Stay within budget limits
Staying on or under budget is another critical piece of a successful project. Materials, labor, equipment, services and contingency costs are some of the line items for any given project.
Projects that have a lot of moving parts or continually evolve to include additional specifications need constant supervision to ensure they remain within the budget.
Cost estimation is helpful for determining the size budget needed to support the project’s costs. There are a number of techniques you can use at different stages of the planning phase. But once a project is underway, it doesn’t take much for the actual costs to change.
Imagine a scenario where bad weather delays the construction of a new highway. This adds extra labor costs, and it may also require the purchase of additional materials.
Scope also impacts budgets. PMI research suggests roughly half of projects fall prey to scope creep, but any project is vulnerable to uncontrolled changes. Renovating an old home and discovering it needs significant upgrades to be up to code is a simple example.
Project management software provides several different ways to gain insights on budgets. We’ll look at the two most common: reports and dashboards.
The majority of applications have dashboards, ranging from simple views to comprehensive overviews of project data. Visibility into spending is essential for staying on top of costs. Dashboards summarize key metrics like billable hours and project spend.
Many systems also allow you to generate reports across a range of KPIs. This is helpful for tracking a project’s spending history. In addition, reports can compare projected versus actual costs for margin, margin rates, billable totals and more.
Organize and track project details
Some projects are small — e.g., publishing a newsletter. But many projects exist on a much larger scale. Examples include constructing a highrise, implementing an ERP system or rolling out a new product.
Any project involves details you need to organize and keep track of. The bigger the project, the more complicated that becomes. Project managers have to keep their finger on the pulse of hundreds if not thousands of data points such as direct and indirect costs, team member workloads, deadlines, etc. You can see how quickly it becomes overwhelming.
Because of this, project management is designed to streamline and organize everything, from who’s responsible for what deliverables to the individual tasks needed. Here are some of the main tools that help bring order to the chaos:
- Resource management: You can view team member workloads and reassign work if necessary to keep things flowing smoothly.
- Boards and cards: Boards provide a way to organize project workflows using columns, while cards can represent specific tasks or deliverables. This allows you to easily see particular details while keeping information organized.
- Notifications: The system alerts users for a host of different cases, such as getting tagged or having a card assigned to them.
- Attachments: All major systems let you attach files and many support integration with apps like Dropbox for easy file storage. This centralizes important project documents and makes them readily accessible.
- Checklists:You can keep track of specific items related to tasks, phases and other project elements. Everyone can see what’s completed and what’s left to do.
Enhance collaboration and communication
Communication makes the world — and projects — go round. Without clear communication, problems are impossible to avoid. And the bigger the project, with the more people involved, the more essential it becomes to make collaboration as easy as possible.
It’s easy for things to fall through the cracks. You can picture what would happen if the project manager wasn’t alerted about a production bottleneck or only half the team knew about a tweak in the workflow.
Whatever the case may be, you can’t afford to have poor communication. That’s like trying to negotiate a peace treaty over the phone with a bad connection.
Fortunately, project management solutions are equipped with features that facilitate better collaboration and communication:
- Guest access, which allows admins to invite external users and set permission levels
- Comments and @tagging capability
- Description fields
- Activity feeds
- Built-in due dates so it’s clear when a task needs to be finished by
- Email integration for responding to comments and creating tasks from your inbox
FAQs: The Scoop on Project Management
What Is Project Management?
Project management is the process of overseeing a particular set of tasks that together form a project and are executed to produce a product, service or other deliverable. Unlike ongoing business activities, projects have a defined scope, occur within a set period of time and have a specific cost associated with them.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines five main stages of a project, known as the project management lifecycle:
- Monitoring and controlling
Using these stages, teams can effectively lay out and then accomplish an entire project.
What Is Project Management Software?
Project management software is used to help project managers oversee individual projects at a high level. These systems can:
- Track the employees working on a project
- Monitor the status of a project
- Control costs to make sure they’re staying on budget
- Aid in collaboration
In other words, it helps take your projects from start to finish while maintaining the designated budget and deadlines.
Project Management vs. PPM
Many organizations have multiple projects happening at once. Similar to tracking the details of a specific project, they also need to stay on top of each current project in order to allocate budget and resources accordingly as well as plan for the future.
That’s where project portfolio management (PPM) solutions come in handy. They include features that help organizations successfully execute a portfolio of projects at the same time while taking business strategies into consideration.
Who Is Project Management Software For?
Anyone can use project management tools, from individuals to organizations with multiple teams. It can bring benefits to companies in any industry, and the diverse range of products available covers project requirements from the most basic to the highly complex.
Users can include project managers, team members and external collaborators, such as clients or contractors.
What Are the Main Benefits of Project Management Software?
Every company, no matter the size, depends on successful project execution to complete business initiatives and conduct operations. Project management applications enable organizations to:
- Keep projects aligned to their original purpose
- Deliver the desired end result
- Control scope creep
- Give project managers visibility into key project data
- Reveal bottlenecks
- Effectively manage tasks
- Streamline complex workflows
What Are Some Drawbacks of Project Management Software?
Although leveraging technology for project management can bring significant benefit to your company, they aren’t without drawbacks.
- Cost: Apart from free versions, software isn’t cheap. And since many vendors use a SaaS model, the more users you need, the more you’ll pay. That can add up to a sizeable investment. You need to make sure the ROI justifies the cost.
- User adoption: If your team is used to spreadsheets and post-it notes, transitioning to a software solution may be difficult. And a solution isn’t valuable unless teams use it and it makes their jobs easier.
- Execution: Project management software is helpful for many things, but it can’t do everything. Individual team members are still responsible for doing the work.
- Access: Giving external users the ability to view and edit project details is useful. But you need to be careful with the settings to ensure prying eyes aren’t accessing sensitive information.
- Complexity: Having a lot of features is only helpful if you’ll use them. A system that comes with capabilities beyond what you need will be more confusing than it’s worth.
What Types of Project Management Software Are There?
The different types of project management software fall into two main categories: how they’re hosted and who they’re for.
Cloud-based: Many solutions are hosted in the cloud, where the software exists on the vendor’s server and is used via the internet. This provides flexibility so users can access the platform from anywhere they have an internet connection.
On-premise: A few of the major platforms, such as Jira and Microsoft Project, also offer a self-hosted option. This lets you install the software on your company’s servers, giving you more control over the system and providing greater customization options.
Team size: You can find a number of platforms that have a free version. While they don’t have the range of features and don’t support as many users as their premium counterparts, this can be a good option for smaller teams or individuals.
Methodology or use case: Some products are designed for specific project management methodologies, such as Agile project management. They may also have options for different types of teams: product development, marketing and so on.
What Are Some Examples of Project Management Software?
When looking for new software, it’s always helpful to get an idea of where to start. Airtable, Wrike and Smartsheet are all recognized products that can support a range of activities. Keep in mind that the right solution for your company will depend on your unique needs and goals.
For a full rundown of the top applications on the market, check out our analyst-picked project management Leaderboard. You can compare them side-by-side for a quick overview of how their capabilities stack up and to give you a jumping-off point for more in-depth research.
How Do I Select Project Management Software?
A simple Google search for “project management software” turns up more than a billion results. And while you’ve probably heard about products like Trello and Asana, there are hundreds more to choose from. Which other platforms are worth checking out? What should your process look like?
We recommend doing your homework. That includes gathering your requirements, evaluating products and giving the software a test. Many vendors offer free trials, which is the best way to determine if the software will be a good fit for your company.
We’ve put together some free resources to give you the information and tools you need to find the right solution for you.
The best place to start is our analyst comparison report. We also have an easy-to-use platform that will help you gather requirements, shortlist vendors, send out RFPs and ultimately choose the best project management tool for your needs.